historian

Remembering 'Uncle Vincent'

Vincent Harding, photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler

I SAT MY two boys down the night I got the call and heard the news. “Uncle Vincent has died and passed on,” I told 15-year-old Luke and 11-year-old Jack.

I could see the sadness in their faces. Vincent Harding had been like an uncle to them, an elder and mentor to me, a formative retreat leader for the Sojourners community, and one of the most insightful commentators and historians of the true meaning of the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Harding and Dr. King were friends. Vincent and his wife, Rosemarie, were part of the inner circle of the Southern freedom movement, and Harding wrote the historic speech that King delivered at Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967, where he came out against the war in Vietnam and identified the “giant triplets” of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism.

That speech was perhaps King’s most provocative and prophetic address. It reflected King’s heart and mind, and went further than he had gone before in challenging foundational and systemic wrongs in U.S. life and history and not merely calling for racial integration. This King—particularly in his thinking and writing from 1964 and the passage of the Civil Rights Act until 1968, the year of his assassination—was a King perhaps best understood by his speechwriter that day, Vincent Harding.

That’s what Vincent always did for us all: asked us to go deeper into our faith.

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In Remembrance of Dr. Vincent G. Harding

Vincent Harding with Sojourners Senior Associate Editor Rose Marie Berger

It is with deep sadness that we mourn the passing of well-known historian and scholar Dr. Vincent Gordon Harding, who died earlier this week at the age of 82. Harding, author of many books including Hope and History and There is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America, was a contributing editor for Sojourners magazine and a dear friend to the Sojourners community.

“This is a great loss for our movement and the world and for all of us here at Sojourners,” says Sojourners President Jim Wallis. “We are poorer for his passing and richer for having known him.”

A leading figure in the civil rights movement, Harding served as a speechwriter for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and helped write, among others, the seminal speech “Beyond Vietnam.” Harding was the first director of the Martin Luther King Memorial Center in Atlanta, and cofounder and chair of The Veterans of Hope Project—which documents and promotes democracy, reconciliation, and nonviolence—at Illiff School of Theology in Denver, where Harding taught for more than 20 years and served as Professor Emeritus of Religion and Social Transformation.

Since the early 1980s, Sojourners has worked with Harding to encourage and equip leaders in the faith-based movement for social justice. From his earliest writings about democracy and racial justice to his last Sojourners magazine article “To Redeem the Soul of America” (April 2013), Harding remained a steadfast activist and ally in the struggle for freedom.

In remembrance of Harding’s legacy, we offer this roundup of his writings.

‘Do Not Grow Weary of Lose Heart’ (Sojourners, March 2012)
What does it take to sustain the struggle for justice over the long haul?

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